By Jessica Resnick-Ault
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – Grieving families and friends gathered on Tuesday for the first funerals for victims of a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue, as protesters prepared for a visit by U.S. President Donald Trump amid accusations his rhetoric had encouraged anti-Semitic extremists.
Mourners from across the United States went to the Rodef Shalom synagogue to pay their respects to David Rosenthal, 54, and Cecil Rosenthal, 59. The two brothers were among the 11 mostly elderly congregants shot to death on Saturday at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Pennsylvania city’s Squirrel Hill section.
Funerals were also being held for Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, and Daniel Stein, 71.
“Words can’t describe it. It’s so tragic. The world we live in leaves individuals who are so deranged to take actions like this,” Bob Farrow, who knows members of the Rosenthal family, said outside the Rodef Shalom temple.
“Everyone wants to show their support of the Jewish community,” said Farrow, who is not Jewish.
Robert Bowers is accused of storming into the synagogue yelling “All Jews must die” and opening fire on members of three congregations holding Sabbath prayer services there.
A federal judge on Monday ordered Bowers, 46, held without bail.
The attack, which the Anti-Defamation League described as the deadliest targeting Jews in the United States, has heightened a national debate over Trump’s rhetoric, which his critics say has contributed to a surge in white nationalist and neo-Nazi activity.
The Trump administration has rejected the notion that he has encouraged far-right extremists who have embraced him.
The Republican president said he would visit hospitalized police officers and other people wounded in the shooting.
“I’m just going to pay my respects,” Trump told Fox News on Monday night. “I would have done it even sooner, but I didn’t want to disrupt anymore than they already had disruption.”
The top four U.S. congressional leaders – Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer, Republican House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi – declined to join Trump in Pittsburgh, a source familiar with the planning said.
An aide to Ryan said he was not able to travel to Pittsburgh on such short notice.
Trump’s visit comes just a week ahead of elections that will determine the balance of power between the Republican and Democratic parties in the U.S. Congress. The Republicans currently control both the Senate and House.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee and Susan Cornwell and Rick Cowan in Washington; Writing by Nick Carey and Paul Simao; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Jonathan Oatis)